A Glance at the Italian Constitutional Referendum

∼ November 2016 print issue.

Giuliano Formisano discusses the 2016 Italian Constitutional Referendum. Edited by Isabel Aruna.


“The Italian Constitutional Referendum” Illustration by Henry Jeremyn.

Sometimes Politics needs to adapt itself to new generation’s ideas; this is what the Prime Minister of Italy Matteo Renzi has proclaimed since his election back in 2013. This year Italy is called to vote for its third Constitutional Referendum of its history. This vote will involve forty-seven articles of the Italian constitution, a significant change never attempted before.

Under the spotlight the new Article 70 implies the change of legislature from bicameral to unicameral, in other words, an attempt to change the Italian Parliament from a legislative body with two chambers to a single legislative chamber. The other critical change will involve Article 80, which addresses the power of the President of the Republic. If “YES” wins, the power to dissolve the two chambers will pass from the President of the Republic to the Prime Minister.

In contrast, the “NO” campaign is held by Five Stars Movement and Forza Italia, which combines 47% of the votes in the last general elections against the 25.4% achieved by Renzi’s party.  It highlights the concern of reducing democracy and enhancing the Prime Minister’s power. Moreover, it points out that the new Senate of Regions, formed by mayors and regional committees, will hardly be able to take on the role of the old Senate because of its senators’ local roles. Finally, the opposition vote will be influenced by Mr Renzi’s promise to resign in the case that Italy votes “NO”.

The “YES” campaign ensures that there will be cuts in political costs, greater power for mayors and regional committees, lower quorum (the majority of vote to win) for future referendums and a faster policy process. Nevertheless, Italy has been one of the most active countries in the world last year, statistically approving one law every five days- more than the USA, Russia and Germany-. What is the need for change then? Is this system leading to an oligarchy?

Nowadays, Renzi’s campaign is gathering momentum, considering his increased consensus across Italy. According to Index Research, “NO” is predicted to win by a slight margin of 2.8%, even though, the support for “YES” is growing after being behind by 6.8% in early October. As reported by Istituto Ixé, “YES” and “No” are even at a tie of 50% on both sides (12 Oct 2016).

There has been a cry for change many times in Italy. It has had 63 governments in the last 70 years, but it still remains one of the world’s slowest growing economies. Tomasi di Lampedusa in the novel- “The Leopard”- said “everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same”, the perfect metaphor of the current Italian politics.

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